Gerrit Coetzee, Nazir Akram and Davida van der Merwe share valuable advice for Newcastle businesses

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The months of lockdown have enveloped many businesses and livelihoods, seeing vast sums of businesses either shutting down or having to retrench staff.  All to ensure, they weather this rolling storm.

During these trying times, guidance and advice from reliable, successful sources is rare. Solid guidance which can be absorbed by business owners and managers out there, all with the common goal in mind. Survive and potentially prosper from the current business climate across SA. 

The Newcastillian sought the advice to 3 influential professionals to assist you, our readers.

One such professional is Davida van der Merwe, an optometrist and beloved community member who needs no introduction.

Davida, the owner of Davida van der Merwe Optometrist, states the pandemic has impacted the optometry industry substantially over the past few months.

She explains most optometrists were closed during Level 5 of the lockdown. “However, we were available for ocular emergencies. And most practices were either partially or fully open since the start of May.”

Davida goes on to emphasise, how grateful they are to be open and that they can continue to offer services to their patients.

With several industries facing overwhelming odds, how has Davida responded to the challenges?

Rising to the challenge whilst staying positive, coupled with a few steps, has played a pivotal role in her business, during these trying times. 

Davida states that a key step for her was, “constantly assessing all expenses and expected income and regular communication with creditors and debtors.”

However, Davida stresses that it is important to highlight that communication with staff and clients are always crucial, not just during challenging times.

“And we are fortunate to work as a team or a tribe, through thick and thin.”

Davida says during the lockdown, she took the opportunity to listen to quite a few Webinars from the Free Series by Tomorrow Today Global http://www.tomorrowtodayglobal.com/webinars/ and amongst others, she follows Graeme Codrington on Instagram.

“His posts are informative and positive, with good solid information,” she says.   

 What advice can she give local businesses in weathering the COVID-19 storm?

“Never give up, plan, communicate and help each other. I have been so humbled and impressed to see people and businesses pivot during times when they could not operate/work in their business like before; and how they saw new opportunities and took them on. It helped to speak to other colleagues in similar businesses to my own. We could share our fears, concerns, and ideas,” she explains.

During these trying times, what does she feel makes her business, Davida van der Merwe Optometrist, stand out from others?

“Kindness”, states Davida. “Every person that deals with our practice should feel like the world is a little better,” she accentuates.  

What are her views on the future of Newcastle and South Africa as a whole?

“I am a positive person by nature, and I would like to think that we will and can survive the current COVID crisis and the current economic situation. This can only occur with the right governance, which focusses on development and job creation,” she concludes.

As Davida van der Merwe weathers through the pandemic, another professional who stands out from the crowd is Gerrit Coetzee of DBM Attorneys. A man of resounding character and resilience, Gerrit is a professional who is always up for a challenge.

As a professional in the legal sector, how does Gerrit feel the pandemic impacted the legal industry as a whole?

“In general, most law firms were severely affected as a result of the lockdown, given the fact that law offices had to close during the stage 5 lockdown period.  It has negatively affected law firms that do not provide a wide range of legal services.  We regard ourselves fortunate in that the variety of specialised services provided by us, enabled us not to be dependent on certain work that could not be generated through the lockdown,” Gerrit explains.

With several industries facing overwhelming odds, how has Gerrit and his team responded to the challenges?

“COVID-19 was the so-called unexpected “change manager” that just barged into the office. We immediately responded when the lockdown was promulgated, to set up our staff to work from home and to ensure continuity and uninterrupted service delivery. Immediate strategic planning and management enabled us to respond to the challenge.”

What advice can he give local businesses in weathering the COVID-19 storm?

Gerrit rationalises that times have changed and the traditional way of doing business, especially in a professional environment, will be more costly and difficult. 

“Professionals need to adapt to the current environment and review the manner in which they do business. All team members should be able to work from wherever they are,” states Coetzee.

The compensation regime for staff may also require to be revised.  Compensation for outputs may be a thing of the future and the days of the “hot bum in the seat” maybe something of the past.

The challenge is to monitor performance and control and to establish protocols for the staff to work from wherever they are.

As he offers advice to other local businesses, what makes DBM Attorneys stand out from others?

“Being a member of the Phatshoane Henney Group of Law Firms which is SA’s largest legal network, made a huge difference for us.  It is important to embrace like-minded businesses to maintain your market share in the current environment.  Our main core value is that we care for our clients and our staff, which has made a huge difference.  You need to be innovative and continue to develop your expertise, even in these trying times.  It is important to embrace diversity as we are all dependent in our area on the people we serve.” says Gerrit 

Established standards and expertise will be a core differentiator that will enable businesses to weather the storm.

What are his views on the future of Newcastle and South Africa as a whole?

He explains every business should establish a mid-term and long-term plan for the future.  “The future always remains uncertain, but a lot can be dealt with through management and proper strategic planning.”

Furthermore, Coetzee says, businesses in Newcastle will have to revisit their dependency on certain large industries. While noting, the current situation creates vast opportunities for SME’s and entrepreneurs to establish themselves.  “That is where Newcastle’s future lies.”

He adds the effect that politics have on the economy is a growing concern and the policies adopted by the Government are good, but implementation remains a concern.

With Gerrit Coetzee and his fellow directors at DBM Attorneys weathering through the pandemic, Akram & Peer Chartered Accountants SA is another company which has evolved and adapted to the current business climate.

How did the pandemic impact the accounting industry as a whole?

Nazir Akram, a highly experienced Chartered Accountant and partner in Akram & Peer, emphasises no industry has been spared during the pandemic.

“Some industries have been affected more so than others. As Chartered Accountants, our firm Akram & Peer were called into action at the outset to assist our clients during the pandemic. In these most uncertain times, clients looked to us, as business and tax advisors,  to provide direction, assist in understanding the waves of information being released for business, tax and employee relief and provide the necessary support and guidance to make sense of “where to from here” for their businesses, post lockdown,” he explains.

With several industries facing overwhelming odds, how has Akram & Peer Chartered Accountants SA responded to the challenges?

“It is clear that the financial impact of this pandemic on all industries are being felt and will be felt for months, if not years to come. We have moved from Business as Usual to Business Unusual. With business revenue under substantial pressure as a result of the pandemic, it is essential for each business to do deep introspection and revisit the way they operate.” states Nazir Akram

Furthermore, he says, business owners must streamline their operations to manage/reduce their business expenses in line with the reduction in revenue.

“The old adage that cash is king, is extremely relevant in the current economic climate. We need to adapt our business models to move to a majority cash model, as supplying goods and services on credit should not be normal practice anymore. Cash flow is the bloodline of every business and cash flow management becomes essential to survive.”

What advice can Nazir give local businesses in weathering the COVID-19 storm?

Getting back to the basics is fundamental in this new world of business. This along with the 3 key interventions which he shares with us, will go along way in assisting your business. 

Some of the interventions Nazir feels are important to include are:

  • Reduce debt – those businesses which had the least amount of debt pre-COVID have the most likely chance of limiting the adverse effects of the pandemic on their businesses.
  • Increase cash reserves – being able to buy for cash allows you to negotiate better prices and become vigilant about what you spend your money on.
  • Reduce expenses – review expenses to remove unproductive business expenses and renegotiate rates with service providers. “In essence, the business must get more bang for every buck that is spent for the business,” Akram highlights.

What are Nazir’s views on the future of Newcastle and South Africa as a whole? 

He feels Newcastle and South Africa can overcome the challenges its people face.

“The country was already facing economic challenges before the pandemic. The pandemic has exposed the divide between the HAVE and HAVE NOTS and has wiped out a large part of the so-called middle class, as many have lost their employment. The solution is long term and I believe the solution to our problems can be summarised in two words, ethical leadership.”

Nazir elaborates that if every sphere of government and business appoints ethical leaders, who have the skills to do the job they are appointed to do, and these leaders are firm in action by ridding their organisations of corruption or any other crime through whatever means, we will become a nation which its citizens will be proud of. 

“If we start seeing the people who openly benefitted from corruption being punished this will start setting the tone for a new dawn in South Africa.”

With these three prominent professionals sharing their expertise and knowledge. One needs to note the advice shared by them and at the same time, take ownership of the current state of our economy. It is time for calculated steps and high levels of focus. It is a time to fully submerge yourself into your business, industry and of course, be vigilant to the opportunities arising from the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

This time of change is not a death sentence for the business sector, it is, however, the birth of a new age of intellectual, connective business.

Author – Quinton Boucher

Edited – Calvin Swemmer


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